On the same day that Inter Miami confirmed the signing of one of the best soccer players of all time, Lionel Messi, the team, colista of the Eastern Conference of the American Soccer League, defeated at home (0-1) the Legion of Birmingham (Alabama) to get into the semifinal of the US Open Cup. Obviously, one of the news overshadowed the other, and that the set marked a milestone: it was the first time in its history that they reached so far in the tournament.
To say history in the case of Inter, founded five years ago, is not too much to say. Perhaps for that reason, and despite so much information bustle, the DRV PNK stadium, a semi-open field with the stands touched in pink, the color of the club, woke up on Thursday almost deserted. A small iguana ran from here to there, a security guard patrolled in search of annoying curious and a handful of Argentine fans wanted to see with their own eyes where the great idol will play from now on.
Inter Miami's DRV PNK Stadium on Wednesday. JOE RAEDLE (Getty Images via AFP)
One of them, Marcelo López, was caught by the news in Miami, where he was visiting his daughter Cintia; that same afternoon he returned to Rosario, Messi's hometown. "I live three blocks from where [Angel] Di Maria grew up and I'm from Central, but I love Messi [who as a child played for Newell's Old Boys, we all love him madly," he explained. Lopez was looking to "take a couple of photos" and "an official store where you can buy an Inter shirt." He didn't find it in the stadium complex, a gleaming construction in the middle of nowhere in Fort Lauderdale, about 50 miles north of downtown Miami, a non-venue surrounded by workshops, warehouses and an aviation school that's meant to serve as the team's sports city in the future.
"They still have a lot to learn from the merchandising business of European and Latin American clubs," said Carlos Arellano, another Argentine tourist from southern Brazil. He went to the stadium accompanied by his brother-in-law, Pablo Papparella, who explained that the Inter fans "are the strongest, because here there is a lot of Latino, and especially, a lot of Uruguayan and Argentine."
The club was founded in 2018 with them at the helm. The idea was to provide a soccer team to one of the large cities in the United States with the largest Latino population, accustomed to following the European and Latin American leagues rather than dedicating its time, limited in a country with so much sports offer, to Major League Soccer (MLS).
Everything seems to indicate that the owners of Inter, a conglomerate of investors that includes the British footballer David Beckham and led by the brothers Jorge and José Mas, two Cuban-Americans well known in Miami, are determined to change that. Both are sons of anti-Castro leader Jorge Mas Canosa, a leading figure of the first exile, whose funeral was attended by thousands of people in 1997.
Jorge Mas, the club's largest shareholder and CEO since 2021, made his money with telephony (a fortune of 1,300 million dollars, according to Forbes), and imposed a football mission after joining the team's board of directors: "to turn the city into the gateway to soccer, not only to South Florida, but to the Americas."
The arrival at 35 years of the brand new world champion with Argentina, who preferred the siren songs of Florida to those of the hero's return home, in Barcelona, or the multimillion-dollar melodies from Saudi Arabia, not only promises to alter the destiny of Inter, it also aspires to change the fortunes of a league and a sport that advances in popularity in the United States, But it still needs a final push. Above all, in the face of what is coming: the country is preparing to host the Copa de América in 2024 and the World Cup in 2026, a responsibility shared with Canada and Mexico. Miami will be one of its 16 venues.
The city received the news of Messi's signing on another sweltering and stormy June day with curiosity and rejoicing. The local newspapers made it the subject of the day, honor of which did not even manage to apparolate the game of the Miami Heat, who are playing the NBA finals with the Denver Nuggets and played (and lost) the third of the elimination on Wednesday night.
That and other unusual coincidences made veteran sports journalist Greg Cote public his enthusiasm in an article in the Miami Herald for what it meant for "the best week in the history of sports in South Florida" the announcement of Messi, a signing yet to close completely, according to its protagonists. To basketball and the arrival of the star in his twilight, Cote added the fact that "the Florida Panthers [ice hockey] host their first Stanley Cup Final home game in 27 years on Thursday; the Marlins [baseball] are winning against all odds; and the Dolphins [football] are showing more promise than ever in their recent history." "It's surely the best time to be a sports fan in Greater Miami," he said.
Nowhere in the city has the joy of Messi's arrival been more palpable and concentrated these days than in the area known as Little Argentina, in North Beach, where social life is articulated around two flagship establishments, the Buenos Aires Bakery and the Manolo bar, where the multitudinous celebrations for Argentina's victory in the World Cup were concentrated last December. On Thursday afternoon, a young man named Luciano apologized for not having been at that celebration showing on his mobile his image in the final of Qatar, the real one, while watching on the large televisions of Manolo a match of his team, San Martín de Tucumán, "the most fearsome fan in the world". "Inter Miami," he said, "is not a great team, but now it's up to us all to become fans. The kid has come here to retire, and we have to respect that."
A fan holds Messi's jersey with Argentina during the NBA finals game between Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets.Mike Ehrmann (Getty Images)
David B., one of the employees of Buenos Aires Bakery said Wednesday that the bakery became after the announcement a "parade of compatriots celebrating the news." "My boss, so footballing, started jumping for joy as soon as it was confirmed," he added.
Regulo Martin, a Venezuelan, also welcomed the prospect. "We are going to miss a lot, the team has had a disastrous season, in part, I think, because they were waiting for Messi to arrive. And in the end it came. Now they just need to complete it with the signings of Busquets and Luis Suárez, "he said as someone who writes a letter to the Three Kings of football.
The player will be, according to the specialized website The Athletic, the highest paid in the history of the MLS, and will enjoy a percentage of the income of the television broadcast, in addition to a share of the profits of Adidas, which is already his personal sponsor. It would also include, always according to The Athletic, the possibility of buying, after his retirement, an MLS club.
In the latter, Messi – who has two properties in Miami and one of his soul friends, Kun Agüero, living in the area (in a mansion by the sea in Hollywood, Florida) – can look in Beckham's mirror. After serving at the Los Angeles Galaxy (until now, it was the two metropolises of the East and West coasts that had traditionally taken the big names in world football, since the distant days of Pelé in the New York Cosmos), the former Real Madrid player invested 25 million dollars in Inter in 2018. The club was valued at $655 million on Tuesday. After the bomb announcement, which had been speculating for some time as one would tell the plot of a football-fiction novel, its valuation has climbed, according to some analysts, above one billion.
When Beckham made public his entry into the shareholding, Messi congratulated him on his social networks. "Who knows, maybe in a few years you'll call me," he told her in a recorded message. "David and I are working very hard to make something like this happen, which I think is not only transformative for Miami, but also for the league," Mas told The Athletic in 2021.
The call, even if it was not personally from the English footballer, finally came. And the Rosario, who confirmed the news on Wednesday in a joint interview with the Catalan newspapers Mundo Deportivo and Sport, will be free for Inter as soon as the beginning of July: the 5 is when he leaves behind his commitment to Paris Saint Germain, team to which he has been linked for two years, after a brilliant career of 15 years at Barça. The first date for its possible debut in a league much less competitive than the French and Spanish is July 7, when Inter has an appointment with DC United, a team from Washington, a city that until now has followed with more passion the Spirits, the women's football team, whose profile has been more competitive in recent years. Surely, it will be later.
At the moment, the Messi effect has already been noticed in matters such as the explosion in the number of new followers of the Miami team's Twitter account (many of whom jokingly shared the same message: "I, from the Inter of a lifetime"), as well as in the price of tickets: the cheapest for the home match against the New York Red Bulls on August 26, One of the most important and interesting on view during the summer, jumped on Wednesday from $ 30 to $ 512 on the club's website.
Here is another of the many unknowns that open with the announcement: is the current Inter field prepared for the one that comes upon him? The DRV PNK only seats 18,000 spectators. They plan to move to a new home, Miami Freedom Park, a 25,000-seat stadium to be built on the site of a golf course near Miami's airport. If nothing goes wrong, it will be Messi's new home from 2025.
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